The Dangers of Clickbait During the Coronavirus Pandemic

On Friday, President Trump signed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, the third phase of the recovery package while the fourth is currently in the works, sealing its fate as the largest economic stimulus in modern U.S. history. The monumental bill was signed after days of intense bickering and taut negotiations between congressional Democrats and Republicans. 

The logistics of the bill, however, aren’t completely clear to the American public. A portion of this widespread confusion can be attributed to misleading headlines. A recent BuzzfeedNews headline reads: “The Senate Passed A Massive Coronavirus Aid Package That Would Give Most Americans A $1,200 Check.” This deceptive headline makes it seem as if all Americans will receive a $1,200 check from the federal government. 

However, that’s not quite right. 

In reality, the arbitrary $1,200 number is for individuals, whereas married couples who file joint taxes will receive $2,400. The payment will also include $500 for every dependent child under the age of 17. This excludes anyone 18 or older who can still be claimed as dependents in tax returns.

But even these numbers are not set in stone.

The actual amount of money each American will receive is also dependent on their income from their most recent tax returns. The payments are reduced based on either the individual or the married couple’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). 

College students are excluded from the payments, another exception that was not clearly communicated. They are too old to be counted as dependents, but the vast majority don’t file their own taxes and therefore cannot be counted as independents. 

Eileen Chen, a freshman at the George Washington University, says that “college tuition and housing and meal plans always make a dent in our wallets and so it makes sense that college students should get some portion of the stimulus check” and that “it’s incredibly unfair” that they do not. 

A large portion of college students work on-campus jobs at their university and are thus currently unemployed as schools are shutting down due to the coronavirus, and yet still have to pay tuition. 

The relief bill is obviously far more complex than the media makes it out to be.

This raises the question of whether it is the responsibility of consumers or of journalists to dispel misperceptions regarding coronavirus and the stimulus package. Is it the consumer’s job to dig a little deeper for the truth? Or do journalists need to create headlines that accurately portray the truth?

Perhaps the answer isn’t entirely black and white. Journalists should always strive to write headlines that aren’t clickbait, and that are sincere instead. But consumers should also be aware of the fact that headlines may be misleading. 

It’s no news that media coverage, particularly on social media, of the coronavirus has unleashed a plague of myths, rumors and misinformation upon the general public. Publications have claimed that only older people can be infected, or that drinking water can prevent you from getting it. These rumors travel easily and rapidly across the Internet and various social media platforms before they are fact-checked, sucking consumers into its cyclone along the way.

This careless spread of misinformation has detrimental effects. It can cause people to take reckless actions, such as gargling bleach, or avoid eating at Chinese restaurants. With so much information, it becomes incredibly hard to differentiate between fact and fiction.

If the media is not completely clear and responsible with the facts, we will never be able to defeat this pestilence.

Journalists must prioritize accuracy over virality now more than ever. Consumers must be conscious, fact-checking every piece of information they find on social media now more than ever. Truth must triumph over the desire to go viral. Fact must triumph over fiction.

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